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Born Bad: A History of Hot Stuff

Born Bad: A History of Hot Stuff

“I don't care about anything really!, 'cept havin' fun!”
Hot Stuff in Casper and the Spectrals

You’ve probably seen him before. Most likely needled carefully into someone's skin or up on the flash wall at your local tattoo shop. The little devil, the demon child, the devil baby; he’s known by a slew of aliases’ but his actual birth name is Hot Stuff (which is way cooler) and he started his life of deviance in the pages of an old comic book for kids. 

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know much about him either. But when Lee Dennis from The Downtown Saint sent me the graphic he’d drawn up for the Steeltown X Downtown Saint “Born Bad” collaboration project, I immediately wanted to know more about the little red devil child sitting on the chopper.

Devil designs are not a rare sighting in the tattoo world. They often appear in traditional Japanese and European flash. But Hot Stuff is different. He’s cartoonish, fun, and is confined to a pretty standardised artistic representation. Appearing as a vermillion red child devil who wears asbestos diapers and carries his trusty trident, Hot Stuff is pure Americana.

After buying out a small publisher called Brookwood Publications, Alfred Harvey founded Harvey World Famous Comics in New York City in 1941. His brothers, Robert B. and Leon joined the company shortly after and they soon got into licensing comic characters to Paramount Pictures Famous Studios, the animation division of the Hollywood film studio Paramount Pictures. By the 1950’s, licensing was the bulk of their business.

Harvey's top artist, Warren Kremer, who spent 35 years with the company mostly as Art Editor, created and defined many of the famous Harvey characters including Richie Rich, Casper The Friendly Ghost, Stumbo The Giant, and, of course, Hot Stuff. Other artists that drew for Harvey were instructed to emulate Kermer's style as closely as they could.

Most of the time Hot Stuff was depicted as a mischievous, lazy, cranky and short-tempered little rascal. Like any other devil he loved pulling pranks on others and, it’s true, could be pretty mean at times, But in the end he was a nice dude. He did good deeds, fought bullies that needed vanquishing, and often helped the dwellers in the Enchanted forests who had various episodic problems.

His powers included teleportation, pyrokinesis, possession, intangibility, invisibility, “Olympic level” spear throwing, heavy equipment driving (he knows how to drive and operate a Backhoe Loader) and, of course, flame breath; one of his signature powers, usually displaying this ability when he was angry, and sometimes seemingly unable to control his flame breath under certain circumstances.

 The Harvey team was so excited about the character of Hot Stuff that they didn't even debut him first as a supporting role (or in the Harvey Hits tryout series) before giving him his very own series. Which turned out to be the right move, considering Hot Stuff now ranks as one of the most popular Harvey characters after Casper and Richie Rich. Hot Stuff has appeared in at least eight different comic book series’ including Hot Stuff Sizzlers (1960), Devil Kids Starring Hot Stuff (1962) and Hot Stuff Creepy Caves (1974).

 Since his debut in the Harvey comics, Hot Stuff has amassed quite a legacy. He is the unofficial emblem for the 108th Field Battery-Royal Australian Artillery as well as the 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron of the Canadian Forces. He is the mascot for a handful of American high schools and a blue version of Hot Stuff is the logo for Fort Morgan Middle School in Fort Morgan, Colorado. He has been used as a logo by everyone from Joey Harrison's Surf Club in Seaside Heights, NJ to the Chicago based street gang Satan Disciples to Austin-based restaurant Torchy's Tacos.

In the comic world, devils have much longer lifespans than humans, sometimes living thousands of years. In some stories, Hot Stuff is 200-years old, in others he's at least 2000 years old. But, alas, no one stays young forever. Hot Stuff eventually grew into adulthood and married his longtime sweetheart Princess Charma.

There’s a little Hot Stuff in all of us. A mean streak. An inner rebel. A child stuck in his ways. A bad boy who wants to bully the bullies. A little demon who just wants to sit on the couch all day and eat junk food while watching fail videos on his iPhone.

This is probably why Hot Stuff became such a phenomenon and is more relevant than ever before. We can all, in ways large or small, relate to his selfishness, his irritability, his just plain being ‘over it’. But most of us still believe in the good of everyone, despite this inner call to mischief.

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